Gadhala – a small hamlet in Aundha Nagnath taluka of Hingoli district. It’s the month of June in 2018 and the whole village is sad. The reason is the sudden transfer of Uttamrao Wankhede, the teacher they revere. For the last 12 years, he has been teaching in the primary section of the Jilha Parishad school in Gadhala. Now he has been transferred to Lakhgao. He has been much more than just a teacher to his students. Everyone in the town is disappointed by this turn of events.
Wankhede sir joined Gadhala primary school in 2006, June. The population of this village is about 700. After Diwali, more than half the people go to west Maharashtra to cut sugarcane. Obviously, post-Diwali the attendance of children dramatically goes down. These children re-appear straight in the next academic year. Wankhede sir was distressed when he realized the reason why these children miss school and decided to talk to their parents about the importance of education. He tried to convince them that if they wanted a bright future for their children and wanted them to escape the life of poverty and hardship, the only way was to educate their children.
He told the parents not to take their kids along with them for sugarcane cutting. In 2008, a few parents agreed and 5 children stayed back. Wankhede sir took on their responsibility. The children went to their relative’s place just to have their evening meal and came back to school to sleep. Sir not only stayed with them in school but took care of them like they were his own children. He made sure they ate well and did not fall ill. He also taught them about hygiene, cleanliness, took care of their studies and also looked after the overall development of their personality.
As a result, when their parents were back from sugarcane cutting, they saw a huge positive change in their children. Seeing this, other parents too decided to keep their children back in town. Most of the kids had their meals with their relatives. Some even slept there, while some slept in the school. A few children didn’t have any relatives in the town so Chaturabai Banduke, the school cook took responsibility for feeding them. Both she and her husband happily looked after their meals and medicines.
When the number of students increased, it became difficult for Wankhede sir to look after them by himself. During that time the ‘Teacher- Parents relation campaign’ (Palak Sampark Abhiyan) was started at the initiative of the then Education Officer, Shivajirao Pawar in Hingoli district. This involved taking help of parents and other residents for the development of the school. Wankhede sir used this opportunity and took help from the people of the town to look after these children. They helped to drop the girl students off at their relative’s places after dark. Whenever it was not possible for Wankhede sir to sleep in the school with the children, someone from the village like young boys waiting to be enrolled in the police force or young men doing their DEd, BEd, would stay back in school to give company to the children.
Wankhede sir says, “even at times when I could not stay back in school, I didn’t leave the responsibility of the children entirely on the young volunteers from the village. Lakhgao, where I live, is 5 km from the school. Around 11 pm, before going to bed, I always did a round of the school to see that they were being looked after well. After all, I could not break their parent’s trust in me. They had left their children in my care and it was my duty to make sure of their well being”.
Many times young men waiting for enrolment in police force helped with the children. One advantage of having them stay in school was that the children became interested in exercising. They went jogging at 6 am with the young men. After that Banduke aunty would help them bathe. After breakfast, they would study. This kind of a regime brought discipline to their lives.
The parents would leave for sugarcane cutting in November and be back in April-May. They would be delighted to see the progress in their children in these few months. The teacher couple Siddheshwar and Rohini Rankhamb were a big help to Wankhede sir. Between them, they looked after the student’s studies, nutrition, and sports.
Most students except the very young ones started staying back late in school. Many times they even stayed over in the school in spite of having their own homes in the village. This was because Wankhede sir had started a night school to improve the educational quality.
After school, the children play for an hour or two and then freshen up and study in the school campus itself. They get their doubts cleared from teachers. Around 8 pm, they go to their respective homes for their evening meal and come back to the school to sleep. They chat a bit, tell stories to each other and sing songs before going to bed. They get up early and exercise. Even the girls are back in school on the dot of 6 am to exercise and jog.
Earlier, when parents took their children along for sugarcane cutting, Wankhede sir often went there himself and brought the children back spending his own money. Later, after understanding his concern, parents themselves started leaving their children with him. Wankhede sir says, “now the children are so attached to the school, that even kids from the creche stay in school till their parents come to pick them up. I had agreed to look after these tots because otherwise, their elder siblings would bunk school to look after them. Now the little ones go to the creche in the morning and eat a nutritious meal with their older siblings in the afternoon. After taking a nap in the temple they join the children in the school. We teach them the 1st standard syllabus. They know alphabets and numbers even before they enter the first grade”.
Wankhede sir with the help of other teachers has stopped the migration of children in Gadhala village completely. Now in place of 40-42, about 82 children attend school. Many of them get a scholarship to study. 8 students have been selected for Navoday school. Although our school is only till the 5th grade, we teachers help the students with admissions in the Eklavya residential school in Chikhaldara and Indiramata school in Aurangabad.
Now even kids from villages around Gadhala have started attending our school. Because of the space crunch, the villagers have bought land adjacent to the school for 2 lakhs. Now more children will be able to attend school. There is a new identity of the village from one where illiteracy ruled to a village that takes interest in education.
Writer: Snehal Bansode- Sheludakar,
Special correspondent, samata.shiksha
Translation & Editing: samata.shiksha Team